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Relationship Issues: Blame Game, Pointing Fingers and Nobody’s Fault?“Looks like someone is going alone” he said sarcastically. She responds, “I told you we were going this weekend!” Then he fire backs and they interrupt each other, trying to get their point across.

There’s a chance they aren’t happy. Yet, the popular belief is that anger will doom a relationship. Although anger can cause unhappiness, it doesn’t end a marriage.

So what does deteriorate a relationship?

The most common complaint couples share in therapy is communication. How you say it and what you say, rather than the actual the problem.

Scientists have discovered 5 patterns that do kill romantic relationships. All impact our communication in some way or another, regardless of the issue. What’s more, these are behaviors we may inadvertently do just to prove our point, get what we want and even fix or repair the relationship.

#1: Criticism

A good synonym is nagging. Anyone can admit they detest being criticized.

Try to remember the last time you were criticized? Who was it? What was it about? What did they say? Now that you remembered the last time you were criticized, did it take you long to think of one? Probably not. Generally, we remember criticism outstandingly well, no matter how small, compared to positive comments.

#2: Defensiveness

This is when we take the opportunity to deny any responsibility and make excuses. There is a reaction in us to want to deny responsibility. It’s difficult to admit we are wrong or that we made a mistake. Those that tend do be defensive on a whole, find negative solutions, think their partners think of them negatively and are more withdrawn.

Some of us react this way in uncomfortable conversations. What matters is how often and chronic the behavior is that can deteriorate a marriage.

#3: Contempt

“It ought to be outlawed,” says Dr. John Gottman about the damages of contempt. Really, all contempt tries to prove is that one is above and the other is beneath. They can let their partner know of their defectiveness through sarcasm, eye rolling, body language, etc. There is a lack of respect—bottom line.

When anger is met with contempt there is an inevitable escalation. Then we say or do things we would later regret. Contempt is considered to be the worst kind of fighting style that loses positive feelings and marital stability.

#4: Withdraw

Withdraw can take the form of stonewalling. It’s a way to end the problem, or avoid it, and it usually happens when someone pursues his or her partner during an issue. The more they pursue, the more the other partner retrieves and the more the partner withdraws the more the other pursues.

It can be leaving the room, refusing to talk, or pretending not to care. Avoiding conflict can still keep a relationship somewhat functional but on dangerous waters.

#5: Affectless

Withdrawing can be very damaging when you not only avoid an issue, but also withdraw affection. In fact, it is more detrimental. If feelings never come out, good or bad, then there is less self-disclosure and problems don’t come up to be solved, subsequently declining relationship happiness.

Being affectless is being neutral. A little neutrality is good when the conversation gets too heated, but having extreme neutrality affect can take a toll on the relationship. Isolation and rejection are difficult to deal with, because we all want to feel included and loved.

The previous four killers are popularly defined as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” but Dr. John Gottman adds more to the story. There are couples that are not part of the Four Horsemen and their arguments don’t escalate, they avoid conflict altogether and don’t self-disclose or have emotional engagement. Affectless marriages don’t express love, maintain it or nurture it. Both extremes of communication are doomed to fail on average, unless you seek professional help.

Getting Help

We all tear down our relationship at some point, especially when ripped from our needs to feel loved and accepted; we end up attacking, stonewalling, etc. So if you find yourself chronically using the top 3 Killers as weaponry, then it’s time to practice appreciation, which is easier said than done, so seek support. If you tend to the affectless relationship, or use the last 2 Killers, there is emotional focused therapy to help you feel safe when becoming vulnerable. At the end of the day we make mistakes, which is why there are erasers at the end of pencils.

Lucinda Loveland

Lucinda Loveland, a Relationship Expert/Writer, has mentored couples and taught relationship/marriage education for almost 10 years. She is now bringing classes online and offering weekly video episodes about relationships, self-compassion, self-confidence, love, forgiveness, trust and more—based on empirical research. Learn more at

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